Stella Grundy: The Rise & Fall of a Northern Star Review – ‘A powerful performance’

[All images credited to Shay Rowan photography] 


To an intro of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ Stella Grundy takes to the stage to depict her character of Tracey Star. And right from the off it is important to say that, although this show has autobiographical elements to it and is presented in a documentary style, it is intended as an ironic parody. With more than a sideways nod to Spinal Tap, it reveals the music industry in all its crass callousness.

This being the third time I’ve seen this production (and I’ll be seeing it again at the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival!) it is a real pleasure to see the creative improvements upon what I always thought had the potential to become such an inspirational show, fully immersive and dramatically inventive. For example, Stella now initially plays Tracey narrating her own tale before going into the role of a frightened little debutante, which is a change for the better. The stage fright thus is more theatrical, rather than as if we should be worried for Stella’s own confidence.


Image 2 Stella


So, supporting John Cooper Clarke, Tracey faces aggressive hecklers but these are put down by her giant of a keyboardist and her shyness fades as she relishes belting out her first song, ‘Moon’. As a result of this, Tracey gets some recording time at the legendary Strawberry Studios where her new band Northern Star record their debut ‘High’. It’s a real catchy number that brings up Tracey’s stock-in-trade lyrical subjects of sex, drugs’n’rock’n’roll as well as her interest in all things magickal, Crowley being referenced later.

The band become flavour of the month with the rise of the Manchester scene and 808 State blares out to a brief rockumentary including such luminaries as Jah Wobble and Dave Haslam. The track ‘Star’ describes the crazy world of touring when “sleep is for suckers” and stimulants are the order of the day (though at this stage probably mainly speed, it does mention cocaine on the cornflakes).

Next on the magickal mystery tour is a session at Jimmy Page’s old studio where they work with an egomaniacal power-tripper of a producer from the States who dishes out crystal meth to Tracey for inspiration. It is at this point that the darkest moment of her tale takes place, when she sells her soul to the devil in a Faustian pact for power and fame. The accompanying track, ‘Lucifer’, is seriously scary, and as a Christian I always skip this when listening to the CD, and in the show leaves us terrified in the dark at the end of Act One.

In Act Two the track ‘Goodbye’ sees Tracey forced to drop the band and do a never-ending round of repetitive banal interviews. It should really also be said that the stage layout and lighting has really clarified and simplified the way the story is told with three key spaces allowing us to take in the different aspects of her character. So in her bed for the authentic hysteric drug anthem ‘Escape Hatch’ we see her in the catch-22 world of addiction with the same repetitive actions in a bizarre bubble, which of course has to burst.

This isn’t a spoiler but suffice it to say that on all four levels- spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically – things start to take their toll leading to rehab, relapse and collapse. As Stella warns us it is a cautionary tale, a warning against that whole hedonistic ‘live fast, die young’ mentality. But it also raises questions about the music industry, creativity and stardom without any easy answers. A powerful performance with verve and veracity that retains the energy and rawness of its earlier productions. Now refined and improved to give a more focused form that adds to the clarity of its approach in terms of content too.

As reviewed 18 June at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford and now showing at Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, 29 June, Hebden Bridge Little Theatre.

Rich Jevons